KNOXVILLE, TN - MARCH 01, 2020 - Pitcher Drew Gilbert #12 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the George Washington Colonials and the Tennessee Volunteers at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Kate Luffman/Tennessee Athletics

Was Drew Gilbert’s grand slam celebration over the line? Not just no, but heck no

As they say, opinions are like buttholes … and elbows, and probably several other body parts. We all have ’em, we’re all entitled to ’em.

But sometimes opinions make your eyes roll so far back into your head that you have to be careful they aren’t gonna get stuck back there, like our mommas warned us when we were kids.

Such is the case with Saturday Down South‘s Chris Wright after Tennessee’s walk-off win over Wright State in the NCAA Regionals on Friday.

Wright, who oversees editorial operations for the sports website, wrote a column entitled, “Did Drew Gilbert’s grand slam celebration cross the line? It’s a fair question.” (Spoiler: Wright thinks it did.)

Not only is it an unfair question, but it’s a little bit of a dumb question. And the answer is not just no, but hell no.

“I’ll be honest. I didn’t like it.”

That’s what Wright said — twice — about Gilbert’s reaction to his game-winning, bases-loaded dinger, before going on to assert that Gilbert displayed a lack of sportsmanship after his game-winner.

To reset the stage: Tennessee was down 8-5 to Wright State in the bottom of the ninth. The Vols had loaded the bases but were down to their final two outs, and it looked like Wright State was about to shock the college baseball world. A loss wouldn’t have eliminated the heavily-favored Vols from the postseason, but it would’ve gone a good distance towards doing so.

Then Gilbert stepped to the plate and smashed an 0-1 hanging curve ball over the right field fence, sending the sell-out, orange-clad crowd at Lindsey Nelson Stadium into a wild celebration.

To understand the moment, you have to understand just how big that hit was. A grand slam is a momentous occasion regardless when it happens. When it happens in the postseason, it’s even bigger. When it happens with your team down three in the bottom of the ninth, it’s bigger still. It’s like a Hail Mary in football, a half-court buzzer-beater in basketball, or a sudden death goal in soccer.

For Tennessee fans, that moment was the equivalent of Josh Dobbs’ Hail Mary to Juaun Jennings in Georgia’s Sanford Stadium. It was that big.

For Gilbert, it was the play that baseball players dream about when they’re kids swinging a bat in their back yard or in the old sandlot down the street.

Literally the only way that moment could’ve been any bigger is if it happened in the College World Series, with a championship on the line. When Gilbert sent that 0-1 pitch into orbit, he earned the right to celebrate.

And celebrate is exactly what he did.

I had watched the replay about two dozen times before reading Wright’s complaint. Not once did I see any behavior to suggest that Gilbert was attempting to taunt Wright State. I watched it a couple more times after reading his piece. I still didn’t see it.

But Wright saw it. “Almost immediately,” he wrote. And not only did Gilbert taunt Wright State, in the writer’s mind, but he was blatant about it.

“I saw a guy take 5 slow steps, pause and turn to face Wright State’s dugout and then take 4 more backward while staring them down,” Wright wrote. Then he nonsensically added, “If he were a football player, he would have been flagged for unsportsmanlike behavior.”

So watch the replay again. Does Gilbert look at the Wright State dugout? Sure. Or, at least, he looks in the general direction of the dugout. We don’t really know what he was looking at, or what he was thinking.

We do know that Wright State’s players (and fans) had been mouthing Tennessee players throughout the game — especially as it looked increasingly likely that Wright State would win the game. To say that there might’ve been some tense feelings leading up to that moment would probably be a fair statement.

But the notion that anything Gilbert did would earn him a 15-yard penalty on the football field for unsportsmanlike behavior is laughable. Not just laughable as in snickering, but laughable as in bust-a-gut. Holy mountain-out-of-a-molehill, Chris Wright!

First of all, that’s not taunting. It’s just not. Not even a little bit.

Secondly, isn’t baseball supposed to be fun? Exactly how should a 20-year-old college student act after smashing a walk-off grand slam in a postseason game? I’m not a Big Orange apologist who thinks Tennessee players can do no wrong. When Rashaan Gaulden flipped double birds at Alabama fans as he followed Daniel Bituli into the end zone to cap a 97-yard interception return in 2017, that was an embarrassing moment that summed up everything that was wrong with Butch Jones’ last team at Tennessee. Derek Barnett may have been the best defensive end to ever play at Tennessee, but he earned every 15-yard penalty he got, and should’ve gotten several that he didn’t get (including one that should’ve cost the Vols a come-from-behind win against Steve Spurrier and South Carolina).

I’m not afraid to call out a lack of class, even when it involves Tennessee players. But if you think Gilbert did anything to demonstrate classlessness with his home run celebration, you’re really stretching. Like really, really stretching. And if you read the reactions to Wright’s hyperbolic manuscript, the only people who really seem to be up in arms about what Gilbert did was fans from Florida and Arkansas and LSU and … well, you get the picture.

It’s not often I get worked up enough about something that someone has written to take the time to pound the pixels crafting my own response, but sometimes you read something that’s so incredibly baseless that you feel dumber for having read it. And that’s how I feel about a middle-aged man clutching his pearls because a college guy dared to celebrate one of the biggest plays in NCAA baseball postseason history.

While most of the rest of the world, whether or not they are Tennessee fans, were wrapping their minds around just how monumental that moment was, Chris Wright noticed — “almost immediately,” like before the warped ball even hit the ground beyond the right field fence — just how out-of-line Gilbert’s celebration was.

Gilbert went on to hit another home run against Liberty in Saturday’s regional winner’s bracket game, one of five dingers the Vols hit on the night as they defeated the Flames 9-3 to advance to Monday’s regional final.

As for Wright, he probably wasn’t watching. After all, he was so bothered by Gilbert’s celebration after Friday’s game-capper that he wished he hadn’t even watched it. “I’ll be honest,” he said. “I wish I would have only seen the result virtually.”

Frankly, if you’re that traumatized by a tame celebration, you probably need to stop writing about sports and stick to writing obituaries or perhaps copy-editing.

Ben Garrett is a journalist from East Tennessee. He is publisher of the Independent Herald, a weekly newspaper serving the Big South Fork region of the Cumberland Plateau, with a sideline in website development and digital marketing. He is also an erstwhile blogger.

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